There is no evidence of any significant human habitation at Folkingham prior to the arrival of the Anglo Saxons. The earliest major settlement in the region was probably around Old Sleaford, at the junction where Mareham Lane, the Roman road from Bourne, meets the River Slea.
The area around Folkingham was in the Roman region of the Coritani, administered by the major towns of Lindum (Lincoln) and Ratae (Leicester). The site of Folkingham lies between two Roman roads, which were branches of the principal north-south Ermine Street. The main thoroughfare was King Street, which ran from Durobrivae (near Peterborough) to Bourne, and then past Sapperton (located about two miles west of Folkingham) to Ancaster and Lincoln. Mareham Lane, a straight unclassified road passing about a mile and a half east of Folkingham, was an eastern branch running from Bourne to Lincoln, while a western deviation went via Stamford.
FOLKINGHAM BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST
Anglo-Saxon cruciform brooch found at Folkingham in 2007.
A gilt copper alloy florid cruciform brooch found in three pieces. Such brooches were worn by women to fix garments at the shoulder. Source: Portable Antiquities Team.
It is likely that Folkingham originated as an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the sixth century, developing into a regionally-important royal soke centre, or multiple estate, by the eighth century. With its easy access to the North Sea, the area around the Wash became a focus of settlement activity, which formed part of the Scandanavian world.
Evidence suggests that Folkingham was a favourable site. It lay at the centre of an approximately triangular area defined by the earlier Roman roads of Mareham Lane and King Street to east and west, with Salter's Way to the north. This territory would form the heart of the later soke and also of the later related wapentake of Aveland.
Folkingham is recorded as Folchingeham in the 1086 Domesday survey, meaning ‘Homestead belonging to Folc(a), or the estate of the Folcingas’. One assumes that Folc(a) must have been the name of an important chief who was associated in some way with the early development of the settlement.
It was under the guidance of Æthelred of Mercia that Folkingham evolved fully into a multiple-estate soke centre from the late seventh century. Dr Caitlin Green has suggested that Folkingham grew as a service centre for the royal monastic foundations on its doorstep, resulting in its independence from the former territory of the Billingas. These foundations were the nunnery at Stow Green founded by Ætheldreda, queen of Ecgfrith of Northumbria, and a possible early monastic site at Sempringham owned by Peterborough Abbey.
It is likely that Folkingham got its own monastic foundation in the form of the minster church of St Andrew's, which gave its name to numerous churches within the jurisdiction of the soke.
Dependant territories within the soke of Folkingham.
This map shows the territories which were tied to the soke, or multiple estate, of Folkingham in the post-conquest period, and although some may be later additions (e.g. distant locations such as Brandon and Hough), it gives a useful idea of the potential structure of the soke in the Anglo-Saxon period.
Possible pattern of communications and early settlement at Folkingham.
Map suggesting original access into Folkingham upon an east-west axis from the adjacent Roman roads. It is proposed that the orginal settlement developed to the north of this axis on the high and level ground at the junction of the eastern and southern valleys.
The low-lying region of Lincolnshire, with its long eastern coast punctuated by river valleys, was particularly susceptible to incursion from Norse invaders. It was thus a prime target in the Danish-led Viking raids which started sporadically at the end of the eighth century, developing gradually into a more-focused settlement initiative during the following century.
The extent of Danish settlement in the Folkingham region is revealed by the survival of some twenty-seven place names ending in ‘by’. These are mainly sited on the upland areas surrounding the old soke core and it is possible that some may have had a military function, as has been suggested with similar concentrations on the coast of Norfolk. It is perhaps in this period that a burgh, or fortified settlement, was established at Billingborough, as implied by the place name - perhaps its function was to protect the soke hub from incursion from the east?
Danish settlements around Folkingham.
The upland area around the soke core of Folkingham, Threekingham, Sempringham and Walcot was extensively settled by the Danes, as revealed through place names ending in ‘by’. ‘Thorp’ settlements have been identified with the development of arable land in the tenth century.
WAPENTAKE OF AVELAND
In the tenth century, Folkingham became part of the wapentake of Aveland, an area comprising of fen edge and uplands, stretching from Bourne to Osbournby. Wapentakes were the approximate equivalent in Danelaw of the Anglo-Saxon hundred, and the word, of Scandanavian origin, probably derived from a meeting place, where a presence or vote was taken by the brandishing, or ownership, of weapons.
Aveland was probably established as an administrative unit some time after Edward the Elder restored English rule to Kesteven in 918. Its boundaries were defined by the earlier soke of Folkingham.
The meeting place of the wapentake was clearly marked on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map, which shows it was connected directly to Folkingham via Greenfields Lane - a modern farm track now leads down to the site. Until recent ploughing, there were still visible the remains of a moat bordering a rectilinear asymmetric enclosure, defined by a large ditch and banks, measuring one hundred and five metres by forty metres.
Aveland wapentake meeting site
The earthwork enclosure of the meeting place of the Aveland wapentake is clearly shown on the 1885 OS map, along with another moated enclosure to the north-west. The site was connected directly to Folkingham via Greenfields Lane - the continuation from the road to Aslackby (which follows a farm track) has been added to clarify the orientation.
BATTLE OF THREEKINGHAM
The so-called Battle of Threekingham was a mythical encounter between the Danes and the Anglo-Saxons, recorded in the unreliable Croyland Chronicle, the early parts of which are a later medieval fabrication. The roots of the story lie in accredited facts. Certainly a ‘Great Army’ under the command of Ivarr the Boneless arrived in England in 865 intent on conquest and settlement. They established a base at York from which raids could be carried out. The account, claimed to be written by Abbot Ingulph, suggested that in September 870, a raiding Danish army was defeated at Threekingham by the combined Saxons of Holland, Lindsey and Kesteven. The next day the Danes marched from their camp and again met the Saxons in battle, this time defeating them. The battle is said to have taken place in the fields between Threekingham and Stow Green, and these fields were known locally as the Danesfield. The moat earthworks at Hall Close were said to be the remains of the Danish force’s camp, while the men of Kesteven were said to have mustered on Stow Green Hill.
But why would such an account be created? Perhaps the answer lies in a desire to embellish the early history of the Abbey of Crowland to enhance its prestige and status. Crowland Abbey is directly associated with the exploits of Hereward the Wake, who became a heroic symbol of resistance to invasion in post-Conquest Britain. From this, it must have been tempting to create an earlier precedent, where Crowland was seen to be playing a key role in opposing the pagan incursions of the Danish Great Army in a valiant defence of Christianity. Thus we find in the account that Crowland provided 200 men for the battle under a monk called Toley who ‘before he adopted the habit, [was] most renowned throughout all Mercia for his military skill’. Toley is thus presented as a heroic warrior in the mould of Hereward. Later in the battle account we find that Toley’s force has expanded to 500 men who are the ‘stoutest of all’ the doomed defenders.
Another inspiration for the story must have been the opportunity it provided, upon the defeat of the Lincolnshire force, to detail the holy relics and charters of the Abbey before they were hidden ahead of the arrival of the pillaging army. This provided a perfect context to claim they had the full body of Saint Guthlac, plus his psalter, and the charters of foundation from King Ethelbald.
The actual battle account is full of historical inconsistencies, which are based on later medieval context. Thus the Danish army is seen to be using horse cavalry and extensive use of bow and arrow in the manner of later medieval warfare. The Lord of Bourne is said to be Morcar, who in fact is Morcar, Earl of Northumbria, who held an interest in the manor of Bourne at the time of Domesday, 200 years later. Algar probably refers to Ælfgar, Earl of Mercia (died c.1062), who was the father of Morcar and the son of Leofric. The three leaders of the Danish army, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Ivar the Boneless and Ubba, all died later on in the national conflict. Lindy Brady has argued (2018) that the early accounts of the Chronicle were probably forged in the late-12th century, at a time not too distant from Hereward and the Domesday-period people referenced in the text.
Folkingham castle site (left) and reconstruction of the inner area of Goltho Castle, Lincolnshire (right).
Goltho, north of Bardney, had an oval fortified enclosure with a central area containing several stave constructed building, which was probably erected sometime after 950. Folkingham follows a similar plan with an outer oval ringwork and a central section which could have housed the main buildings. This plan is from a survey of 1765.
DEVELOPMENT OF A FORTIFIED RESIDENCE
The final phase of pre-conquest development at Folkingham was probably the evolution of an enclosed and perhaps later fortified residence on a new alignment at the south east corner of the earlier grid-planned settlement. The fact that Ulf of Fenisc, a major landholder at the time of Domesday, chose Folkingham as his caput, or principal residence implies there was suitable accommodation there for him and his retinue when he was in residence.
The siting of a defensive enclosure on an undeveloped peripheral site, at the junction of three stream valleys where marshy ground and water meadows to south and east would have made attack more difficult, would have made sense. Water could be employed to fill defensive ditches and provide a supply for domestic needs. The site also had the advantage of commanding a prospect of the east-west axial road as it crossed the valley - indeed its orientation is towards this rather than the projected grid of the earlier settlement.
ULF OF FENISC
Scandanvian lordship was clearly evident in the pre-conquest period when Folkingham was the chief estate of Ulf of Fenisc (a.k.a. Fenman). The fact that Folkingham was Ulf’s principal and most valuable seat was a testimony to its lingering significance and lends weight to the existence of a high status fortified residence here. However, as we shall see, in Ulf’s ownership lay the seeds of Folkingham’s subsequent decline.
Ulf was a powerful thegn with landed interests across a wide area. His focus was not local, but rather national and even international. This means that Ulf’s sphere of influence was cast wide. Folkingham metamorphasised from being a soke centre controlled a local lord, into a principle residence of a, probably largely absent, aristocrat.